That warm weather tease we experienced in February probably had many gardeners thinking that spring was going to come early this year, and it perhaps still will. However, the snow and much colder temperatures has definitely made it feel and look like winter again. Many gardeners probably have their gardens all planned and have seed ordered or already in hand. So, for now, planting the garden is going to have to wait. But, if you are anxious to get planting and you are ready for some fresh veggies, there is another way to get some growing now by planting micro-greens.
As the name implies, micro-greens are grown only for a short time before they are harvested, usually only for about three weeks! In addition, they don’t take up a lot of room or need a fully functioning greenhouse to grow them. You can grow them on a sunny windowsill or with supplemental lights. They can be grown in ordinary flowerpots or more commonly in the typical open 1020 greenhouse flats that you will see in your local garden center holding cell packs in the spring. You can use ordinary potting soil as a growing medium too.
There are a wide variety of vegetables and herbs that can be used to grow micro-greens. Generally they consist of any of the herbs and members of the Brassicaceae Family which include the mustards, chards, cabbage, broccoli, kale, radishes, beets, etc. as well as various types of lettuce and my favorite – peas. I love fresh peas! I was eating the whole pea pod before edible-podded peas even became available or popular. Imagine taking a bite of a pea shoot that is only a couple inches tall and realizing that it tastes just like eating some freshly harvested peas!
If you do a little searching on the internet for micro-green seed, you will find numerous companies that sell the seed and many that sell kits for growing them. Often times you will be able to find blends of different kinds of seed to provide a mild or spicy blend of plants that also come in a variety of colors to not only tantalize your palate but also brighten up your next salad. You can probably find usable seed at your local nursery, garden center, hardware store, discount outlet store or anywhere they are selling garden seeds. Probably one of the most important considerations in selecting the kind of micro-greens that you are going to grow however is that you purchase untreated seed and most people prefer to get organic seed, just to be sure. Since you are eating the young shoots of these plants, seed treatments might be in the shoots, and you would not want to consume those dyes, fungicides or insecticides that were applied to the seeds.
It’s easy to plant most micro-greens. Fill a flat or pot nearly full with a moistened growing medium. Thinly scatter the seeds over the surface of the growing medium. For larger seed like peas, these should be spaced about 1/2 to 1” apart. Smaller seed can be spaced more closely together. Generally, you do not need to cover the seed, just press them down into the growing media with the palm of your hand. It is important though to make sure the growing medium thoroughly saturated after planting but you have to be careful not to wash the seed off the growing medium. Either use a small watering can with a very fine nozzle or try setting the pot or flat in a larger pan or container of warm water until the medium has soaked up water all the way to the top. Then put the whole flat or pot into a plastic bag to keep the humidity near 100% to allow for faster germination of the seeds. Once you see that seed is coming up, gradually open the bag and remove it over the course of a couple days. Keep the flat or pot in a full sun location or under some fluorescent or LED lights to provide plenty of light for the seedlings to grow.
Care & Maintenance
Once the seedlings are up and growing, fertilize them with some half strength, water-soluble plant fertilizer, something similar to a 20-20-20 analysis will be fine. Apply enough solution to saturate the growing medium as evidenced by water dripping out of the bottom of the flat or pot. You can use a small watering can or set the pot or flat in the small tub to soak the medium up from the bottom. You just want to be careful to keep the seedlings from being washed out or getting medium up on the leaves of the seedlings. It will be difficult to clean it off later when you want to harvest the micro-greens. The next time the medium starts to get dry, use plain water. Continue this process as the seedlings grow until they develop about three or four true leaves. Now they are ready to harvest.
Harvest & Storage
Harvest your micro-greens with a scissors or a sharp knife, cutting them just above the growing medium. You can rise them off with cool water by putting them in a strainer or colander and fluffing them up in the stream of water. Shake them to get rid of excess water or gently pat them dry with paper towels. They are ready to eat immediately or they can be stored in a plastic bag or container in the refrigerator for a week or so. They are great served alone with your favorite dressing, mixed with other salad greens or used as a garnish. Be sure to experiment with different mixes of seed because flavors can vary widely depending on what you plant.
Source: David Graper, South Dakota State University, iGrow